By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Santa with stamina

Marcus Larson/News-Register##
Ayden Larkin and his younger brother, Asher, meet with Santa at Serendipity Ice Cream.
Marcus Larson/News-Register## Ayden Larkin and his younger brother, Asher, meet with Santa at Serendipity Ice Cream.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##
Santa talks with Justice Robinson, who is meeting Mr. Claus for the first time. According to Santa s assistant Darrell Flood, the Christmas figure loves talking with children and seeing their eyes light up.
Marcus Larson/News-Register## Santa talks with Justice Robinson, who is meeting Mr. Claus for the first time. According to Santa's assistant Darrell Flood, the Christmas figure loves talking with children and seeing their eyes light up.

One of Santa’s helpers felt shaky when he climbed onto a high perch a few years ago.

“I was unstable. It was a little on the scary side,” said Darrell Flood of Lafayette, who represents Mr. Claus many times each December.

He’d been enduring health problems, including multiple sclerosis, and had been walking with a cane. Not long after that Christmas, he was diagnosed first as “pre-diabetic,” then, although he’d cut out soda pop and lost some weight, as diabetic.

Flood, who’d been playing Santa since 2001, refused to allow the disease to deny him his favorite activities.

“It’s such a blast!” he said, recalling his many appearances at Pet Smart on behalf of an animal charity; visits to Amity Elementary School, Serendipity, the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas and other venues; and rides on a fire truck in the McMinnville Christmas parade, which he’s been doing since 2015.

“Being in a parade is so fun,” said Flood, who also volunteers with community activities, such as Yamhill County’s emergency volunteer program, CERT.

With a belly laugh, he described the way crowds of children swarm around him as he descends from the truck. “It’s a lot of fun to talk to kids,” he said.

After consulting his doctor, Flood started a program called Virta Health Online Diabetes Treatment in September 2016. His glucose and A1C levels, both indicators of diabetes, dropped from dangerous levels. He no longer insulin or oral diabetic medication.

The program is not a diet, he said, but rather “an amazing lifestyle change; just the way I live now.”

Diet is part of it, of course: Very low in carbohydrates, medium amounts of protein and high fat. The latter may seem surprising, he said, but it works well for him.

He can eat what he wants, he said, but he no longer makes bad choices. He feels in control.

“I was a bread hound,” he said. “Now I look at bread and say, ‘I don’t want to feel that bad. Is it worth it?’”

Virta has made a huge difference in his life.

“It’s just amazing. I’m 55, but I feel 35,” he said. He said he sleeps better, has more energy and shakes off bouts of the flu or colds.

“I feel great,” he said.

He’s a more svelte Santa, too, he said, noting that recent photos show his wide black belt cinched around his waist at its smallest size.

Flood is on his fifth Santa suit. When he first started standing in for Mr. Claus, he used a Coca Cola-style suit from the pet store.

Next he bought his own “Old World” Santa suit with a longer jacket and white fur at the cuffs and bottom. “I fell in love with that one,” he said.

His following three suits were made by an ‘ELF’: His mother, Esther Louise Flood of Lafayette.

Flood said he considers himself “more of a Father Christmas than a ‘ho, ho’ Santa.”

“I meet children at their level,” he said. “I consider myself a big, red clown, but sometimes clowns scare people, so I try not to be too big and boisterous, just loving.”

When his Santa duties are over for the year, Flood devotes more time to his CERT and to the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office’s volunteer response team. “I’ve always been a public service kind of person,” said the former Air Force member, police officer and employee of Multnomah County Corrections.

With his sleigh parked, he enjoys riding a motorcycle. In fact, thanks to improving his health through the Virta program, he’s been able to ride again for the first time in years.

“In October, I got my dream motorcycle, a 1994 Honda Pacific Coast. It’s what I always wanted,” he said.

An early Christmas gift to himself, the bike fulfilled one of his goals: to return to the saddle of a motorcycle.

The Honda is parked at the moment, in need of repairs. But until it broke down, he said, “there was not a day I wasn’t out riding.”

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